Life Out on the Street: Next Top Model?

I am an avid watcher of America’s Next Top Model. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, indulging in art, fashion and drama that tickles my aesthetic and psychological palettes. If you can get past the marketing glaze, unnecessary antics, and the shadow of of negative female body image, there is a substance to it- to be a major model, you have to be able to work all sides – inside, outside, upside, downside – of the box. You have to be unique and go beyond limitations to be “on top”.

Sadly, I have to say that the Next Top Model Challenge competition in SL has missed the mark before it took aim.

Fierce - Jewelry Exposition 2008 Entry

From the promotion material that was publicly dispensed in a group I’m in, the Next Top Model Challenge is a SL modeling competition looking to weigh an individual’s appearance, skills, knowledge, resilience and personality. As can be reasonably presumed, the contest is inspired by the reality TV show America’s Next Top Model and its global family of series. (If you have never heard of it before now, ANTM is a competition hosted by Tyra Banks that features 12 contestants, various types of modeling assignments, and an elimination at the end of the episode based on the critique of the judging panel. As the competitors are between the ages of 18 to 25, there is an added factor of drama, both between the players and the staff.)

A few minor items made me uneasy about this event. As an individual trained to pick out and analyze nuances, the self-described statement of “one Secondlife’s most prestigious model competition” in the notecard left me unsettled- I had never heard of this competition before, was familiar with only a few of the organizations the judges were connected to, and at this point in my SLife, I do not think I live under a rock. At this point in SL fashion, I would only label a model competition as well-known or popular, for the most recognized – Miss Virtual World (formally known as Miss SL Universe) hosted by Best of SL – has been run very questionably. There may be one or two other similar events out there that are established, but the work to get into notable agencies such as Timeless and NEX-Core is treated more respectably than contests alone.

The second detail that cocked a brow was the statement “The $100 L Entry fee must be paid directly to HarmonyJade Yifu and its non-refundable.” I understand in RL that there may be application processing fees – colleges, condos and other generic average-Joe businesses have them. However, in scrupulous ventures, this is paid to the group, not an individual member of the team. Furthermore, while reality has work to be done that can be easily visualized (like manually inputting information into a data set on a computer), the work to be done in SL is in a gray area. What are the applications fees going to be used for? What handling work needs to be done beyond just reading over the forms? How is Yifu, a marketing content-creator as well as a judge, going to keep application fees and shop sales separate? Why isn’t the money being put on a separate event account? In a world where people will take the money and run, I would think having this information out there in the beginning would make the matter more credible.

Of course, little piddly things like incorrect grammar really did not show them in the most professional manner. My perspective on the matter: if you want to be taken seriously, put effort into your presentation. With documents, send it through spell check and have someone else read over it for errors. Such ‘insignificant’ details can lead to people not being considered for job positions, and I would think it would become an issue in their application reviews. This may not bother other people in SL, but it is a peeve of mine. Now, I’m sure there’s some people out there who do not think this should amount to any sort of attention. So they called themselves something that’s a stretch and goofed with the typing- big deal. And yeah, the fee issue is problematic, but their could be honest actions being taken.

I did mention these were minor matters. Here are the two sections of the notecard that I take issue with:

Human avatars will only be accepted, neko, furries and other non human avatars need not apply. Applicant can be male or female but not a kid avatar.

Any applicant who has any escort services posted on their profile will also be automatically disqualified. (Have some class please)

Anyone else notice something wrong with these statements?

If you are going to market something based on something else, do some research. ANTM has repeatedly transformed contestants into something beyond your basic adult human- in addition to Cycle Four’s African Animal shoot (more lovely examples seen here), Cycle Six featured an upsidedown mermaid challenge, and CariDee’s Elephant Woman from Cycle Seven is arguably one of the best photos captured on the series. And that is just looking at animals: Tyra Banks dressed Cycle Eight in sugary sweets,while in Cycle Nine they became flora. Stemming from that, Lisa Jackson of Cycle Nine was an exotic dancer, and she was eliminated not because of her job, but because of a poor Cover Girl commercial performance towards the end of the season.

Looking beyond this, Second Life offers users the ability to go past reality’s limitations- with what is given to a virtual model, shouldn’t they take their abilities and individuality that much farther? Honestly, I think some furries and other anthromorphs coud do better showing off outfits because they have to really know how clothing layers and prim attachments are going to work with their avatar in addition to customizing body parts to be unique. Just as with any “normal” model, if they cannot properly pose themselves or set-up their avatars to convey the right image, then they’re out. But that is a skill issue, not an avatar type problem. In the same stream of thought, what of avatars that are transgendered, androgynous or otherwise? One of my favorite models to work with is Vaalith Jinn, a male that prefers to dress in female attire. Would they pass over him because he does not fit into the neat categories of male or female? Would they ask him to “pick one”?

Photo from Cycle 2 Episode 11: The Girl Who Is America's Next Top Model

The matter begs the question that if the Next Top Model Challenge is not willing to pass the hurdle of beyond-human, what of the ultra-human? What of are very primal natures that are typically censored? Oh sure, the models can be sexy and sensual, but what of actual sex? From one of their previous clauses, it doesn’t seem like they could seriously dive into the subject without some prejudicial bias. Would the a model such as Newdoll Nikolaidis be deemed unacceptable because, though she isn’t an escort, she openly presents her interest in BDSM and other carnal activities?

In a more realistic perspective, escort services, erotica and the general genre of sex in SL is the major resident-based industry. Like Linden Labs, people can try to be hush-hush about the matter, but that tends to just make the situation worse with a lack of education and healthy regulation. If not by camping, many users make money through sex acts; I would not be surprised if many current virtual exotic dancers are aspiring to be SL models but haven’t gained the funds/inventory to move up. Connections are indeed helpful, but in the current fashion market, it would be incredibly unlikely that an individual would be hired by any serious modeling if they only have the system-basics.

On the flip side, what about the opposite of sex, death and gore? This aspect of human nature is equally shied away from by the larger community, but it is also a realm that can test a model’s merit. To breathe life into something that has no pulse is not an easy task, for there is the visual presentation challenge and the psychological- overcoming fear, disgust and other negative emotions, as well as becoming the role. The model Jarl Soderstrom not only accomplishes this, he embraces it and makes the subject one of his major areas of exploration on his photostream. Furthermore, these concepts are often the basis for many gothic, Victorian, cyber and other alternative genres, which are by no means small spheres. If the Next Top Model Challenge cannot shake off its blinders towards sex, I do not see how they would be able to master this area.

But why should a model be able to master these things? From the looks of it, a lot of SL fashion mirrors real life’s trends. The answer lies in the adjective: “top”. To be ‘on top’, you have to be ‘the best’. To be ‘the best’ at SL Fashion requires the ability to do it all, to be a chameleon and not be fake. That is what constitutes a skilled model that stands out.

So, why go off about it? For stirring this up, I must have an agenda or spur against them, right?

Sadly for our soap opera viewers, the answer is simple: I am an ANTM fan and I do not care for its name to be placed on something that is not at the same standard. As a model, I think such a competition continues to limit the field rather than broaden, enforcing the idea that you have to be a certain way in order to be beautiful. I did not enter the contest at any point, nor have I had any contact with the judges or sponsors that I am aware of. The statement “We are all told that ‘nothing is perfect’ or ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, well that may be true for some industries but nothing changes the fact that this industry demands perfection” just shows an immersion in marketing and a real ignorance to the greater spirit of the field. It’s for thought patterns like this that events such as the Freak Show are held. Perfection does not have to mean beauty; if it means anything, on the positive it mastery, while the negative is an end. The matter lies in the interpretation, and, hopefully, this will at least get a few minds re-evaluating how they see these contests and the fashion world.

* The opinion voiced here is solely my own. Please don’t harass anyone else or I’ll shove my foot up your hindquarters.

~ by Terry Toland on June 20, 2009.

4 Responses to “Life Out on the Street: Next Top Model?”

  1. […] Lifestyles of the Broke and Notorious […]

  2. I remember my first 6 months in Sl someone approached me in Gurl 6 about some SL ANTM pageant so I wonder if its the same contest, LOL.

    Well I am sure you know my overall opinion on this without even writing it. ANYONE in SL can be a model…who is to judge who is better than the other. And they look the same to me 9 times out of 10. I think its all BS, LOL.

  3. […] Modeling contests are nothing new to Second Life, and neither are the issues that swarm around them. However, I found problems beyond contestant drama and shady judging with the Next Top Model Challenge- the actual structure calls into question if they are really looking for the best SL model or just the best fit for a boxed ideal. Read the full story on my blog, Lifestyles of the Broke and Notorious. […]

  4. Very well written, Terry. Presented very thoroughly and thoughtfully. Between mine own race and that of my girl’s, I have no patience for discrimination within SL. I mean… Summer Deadlight is one of the Supermodels of this world, and she’s a proud neko.

    All I can say is that they are missing out on a lot of good people by being so narrow minded.

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